|"Mahmoud Mohamed gets newspapers from distributors and walks around his neighborhood with his small cart selling papers to residents, people sitting at cafes and passersby." (Amro Hassan/Los Angeles Times)|
By Jeffrey Fleishman
The Los Angeles Times, November 4, 2010
"He's fast, pushing crooked wheels and a stack of newspapers through the bright Cairo night. They all know him and wave. Here comes Mahmoud Mohamed, ink-stained and dusty, sandals scuffing. Every evening, a few minutes past 10, when the bundles thunk, thunk near the old tram tracks, he sorts and loads and steers his cart down the boulevard, moving through traffic like a fish sliding past river stones. He starts his route amid clatter and bustle, but when he's done, he strolls home in the slumbering predawn of a city that in that moment as brief as a prayer can hear itself breathe. Before the Internet, Mohamed knew about the news of the world -- wars, intrigue, the broken loves of movie stars -- ahead of just about anyone. It was a privilege, but such things don't last and what was once special turns into something else. His customers, though, still love the warm feel of paper in their hands, how it crinkles and can be rolled to swat flies or bat away crazy opinions of cranky old men in cafes. But truth be told, pleasant as he is, Mohamed delivers doom. 'People are depressed,' he says. 'They don't want to read the news because it makes them more depressed. Political. Financial. The news never seems to get better. The baker and the tea shop guy don't want me to come by anymore. They said they're tired of reading about things that never change.'
He looks down the street. The man who delivers the bundles from a taxi is late. The wind picks up and it's getting chilly and Mohamed's customers -- 60 steady, the rest promises and hopes for a sale -- will be getting antsy. The taxi man, weighted down as if he's got a pyramid on the roof, finally arrives and Mohamed loads his cart and heads out over vast territory, slipping into a barbershop, handing off a paper to a pharmacist, dodging ladies on a stoop and hustling toward a grocer dusting off fruit. Papers flutter. Walking alleys, scattering cats, hawking in restaurants, Mohamed jingles with change, a wad of folding money in his shirt pocket. The Nasr City neighborhood was mostly dirt and sand 20 years ago, when he began selling newspapers. He was 15. Now it's all grown, a gray bloom of crowded apartment buildings, neon, restaurants, phone shops, mechanics and Chinese immigrants. Cairo is like that, one minute a desert, the next a crooked skyline. [...]"